Put on some old sad bastard music, see if I care

Every good mix begins with some original work

Every good mix begins with some original work

In college, I had a friend who made mix tapes for me and others with great frequency. She even joined an international indie music swap but lagged on making and sending a tape to her chosen person in the exchange, so she made that person two tapes as a means of apology. I’m using that friend as a role model for the moment, as I find myself in the daunting but extremely exciting pilot’s chair for my own mix for a friend. But it’s not like I’m dragging ass stubbornly behind the times. I’ll burn the songs onto a disc.

This process used to result in one of the most pleasurable and simplest gifts to give a person. You rifled through your stacks of CDs, queued up the songs that you deemed necessary, and hit a record button. You got to spend a few hours listening to music you love, and you were doing something nice for the recipient of your mix. But how might that lucky recipient interpret your choices? What if the person dismissed that bouncy, cotton-candy picker-upper track you picked as brain-numbing treacle? What if your friend couldn’t grasp why that one Smiths song was important enough to put on the mix even though they play it on the “alternative” radio station at least five times a day? What if you crammed every second of space on your chosen medium with lyrics, instrumentation, and themes that mean everything to you but not as much to the person the mix is for?

First of all, you’d have some pretty classless friends if any of them flat-out told you these things. Those kind of people don’t deserve tapes or CDs or possibly even music in their lives. But the personalized music mix begs the question: Which person is the mix really for? I would always start my mix tapes and CDs with selfless intentions. John won’t shut up about the Hold Steady, maybe he would benefit from some historical background with the Replacements. Or Jane can’t stop listening to all those awful canned Top 40 beats, so she might enjoy that single from the Dirty Projectors that almost sounds like it could be a Top 40 R&B hit.

But as helpful as your musical education lessons might be, it always comes down to why you pick the songs that end up on your mix. To some extent, every mix you make is for yourself, even if you plan to give it away. The blank tape takes the form of your storyboard or your canvas. Every song is a statement to express your thoughts on a specific point in time or a particular event. Each track will say something about your feelings for the mix’s recipient, which are often hopelessly tangled with your feelings about yourself. Even a line of reasoning as uncluttered as “I thought this person would like this song” implicates both the giver and the giftee with characteristics and desires that weren’t completely articulated until the song played.

But all the same, I love mixes for the thrill of unfamiliar and well-loved bands playing surprising songs as well as favorites. In all the mix tapes I got from my college friend, there were always tracks I didn’t care for very much. At the same time, the tapes introduced me to artists I hold in high regard as well artists similar to them, in that unending web of musical connections that grows as soon as you hear a song that blows your mind.

Finally, a word for my friend, since it’s her departure that inspired this post. She is the Elle of Elle in Wonderland fame, or DK to her friends, and she will be missed tremendously as she works toward her masters in anthropology in Albany, New York. Through DK’s encouragement, I began this blog, and I’ve always valued her comments here, to say nothing the insights she’s offered into my considerably less tidy real life. Hopefully, some of the following songs don’t cause her dad to veer off the road as they make the trek across the country.

The Creation ~ Making Time

Backstreet Boys ~ I Want It That Way

To clarify, that one has a background. Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime, if you’re nice.

Seu Jorge ~ Oh! You Pretty Things

Grizzly Bear ~ Two Weeks

Lonely Island feat. Norah Jones ~ Dreamgirl

Chicharones ~ Taco Wagon

Loretty Lynn & Jack White ~ Portland Oregon

Cut Copy ~ Out There on the Ice

Jens Lekman ~ Pocketful of Money

Tori Sparks ~ Tall Towers

Throw Me the Statue ~ Lolita

Cake ~ Mexico

DeVotchKa ~ Along the Way

The Builders and the Butchers ~ Hands Like Roots

Magneta Lane ~ Ugly Socialite

Sin Fang Bous ~ A Fire to Sleep In

The Low Anthem ~ Omgcd

The Thermals ~ You Dissolve

Jenny Owen Youngs ~ Fuck Was I

Andrew Bird ~ Fake Palindromes

Flight of the Conchords ~ She’s So Hot (Boom)

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